Dubai: More community groups and businessmen have announced plans for free charter services to repatriate Indian workers in the UAE affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Those who have offered hope to the distressed workers include Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC), Dr. Dhananjay Datar, chairman and managing director of Al Adil Group of supermarkets and flour mills and hotelier SP Singh Oberoi who runs Punjab-based Sarbat Da Bhala Charitable Trust.
Dr. Puthur Rahman, president of KMCC UAE on Sunday announced that the community group, that is in the forefront of repatriation mission through chartering flights, will dedicate one free charter flight to fly home workers from Kerala who have been hit by the pandemic.
KMCC’s various units have chartered dozens of flights offering subsidised and free tickets to deserving candidates.
“Apart from that we are arranging this free charter flight mainly to repatriate low-income workers and workers who have lost their jobs to ease their burden,” said Dr. Rahman.
He said some seats among the nearly 200 planned would be allocated to youngsters, who came on a job hunt and domestic workers who lost their jobs as well.
“Deserving applicants should contact the KMCC units in each emirate,” he said.
The flight is planned from Ras Al Khaimah to Kozhikode on June 30.
Ray of hope for workers from Maharashtra
Plans are afoot to charter another free flight from Dubai to Mumbai on the same day by Dr. Datar, who has already sponsored several free tickets to stranded Indians.
“This free flight is being arranged to fly home Maharashtrians, especially the workers from Maharashtra who have been stranded here,” he said.
Free COVID-19 RT-PCR test, free PPE kit and free food also have been announced for the passengers.
“We will pay the quarantine charges also if workers are unable to pay that.”
He claimed that he had already sponsored more than 1000 tickets for repatriating distressed Indians on charter flights and flights under the Vande Bharat Mission.
“We gave priority to pregnant women, stranded families and others from various states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala etc. Some passengers on another charter flight to Mumbai were also tickets from us,” he said.
Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul, who welcomed the charity initiatives of the community members, confirmed that Dr. Datar sponsored 65 tickets through the Vande Bharat Mission.
“He has said the rest of the tickets are funded directly through Air India,” Vipul said.
Dr. Datar said he is hopeful that the state government of Maharashtra and the Indian Consulate in Dubai would support his venture by providing necessary approvals.
Four charter flights to Punjab, Haryana
Meanwhile, Dubai-based hotelier SP Singh Oberoi said he will hire four chartered planes to fly back hundreds of his countrymen through his Punjab-based Trust.
The majority of them would be repatriated free of cost, he told Gulf News in a phone interview from Chandigarh in India.
“Those who could afford tickets will have to pay, others will get discounted rates but roughly 60 per cent of the travelers won’t be charged a single fils. This group will be made of workers who are struggling to survive after being rendered homeless and penniless.”
Trust spokesperson Gurjit Singh said they have sought a list of stranded people from Indian missions in the UAE and also written to the external affairs and aviation ministries in India seeking permission to operate the chartered flights.
He said they will fly in two planes each to Amritsar and Chandigarh airports. “We are largely focusing on youths from Punjab and Haryana but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those from other states won’t get a seat,” said Singh, adding that they hope to fly back around 750 passengers.
Oberoi said they are working on plans to turn some gurudwaras (place of assembly and worship for Sikhs) in Punjab as makeshift quarantine facilities for people who can’t afford expensive hotels. He said he has asked his staff in Dubai to scout for people desperate to return home.
However, Consul General Vipul told Gulf News that the consulate had not yet been approached by anyone in this regard.
Number of charter flights up
By the end of June 17, the Consul General said, around 13500 had flown home on charter flights approved through the consulate and around 15700 were repatriated on Vande Bharat flights.
“In the last three-four days around 10,000 more people have been flown home as the number of charter flights has gone up.”
Indian Association Sharjah, Indian Association Ajman, All Kerala Colleges Alumni Federation and Purvanchal Pravasi Milan spearheaded by investment banker and entrepreneur Saikat Kumar, along with United PRO Association, are among other community groups that have organised repatriation flights.
Some have offered discounted rates and some free tickets on each flight.